Rural Missouri - July 2013 - (Page 30)
Don Wilson’s great-grandfather
was one of the most soughtafter bushwhackers in Missouri
Don Wilson has honored his great-grandfather, BIll Wilson, not only by dressing as he once did, but also by writing the book, “Bushwhacker Bill Wilson Rides Again.”
by Alyssa Goodman
s Don Wilson reaches the
top of a cliff, it takes him
only a second to catch his
breath before he resumes
the history of his great-grandfather.
The 66-year-old stands by the
opening of Moak Cave, where his
ancestor once slept. This was the
favorite hiding spot of Bushwhacker
Bill Wilson. The cave, about a 300foot climb from the ground, gives a
picturesque view of the surrounding
grassy ﬁelds below. A gravel road now
cuts through them.
Don’s great-grandfather Bill was
born around 1830 and started his stint
as a bushwhacker in 1861 during the
Civil War, quickly becoming one of
the most notorious bushwhackers in
Bushwhackers had and still have a
reputation as being rebellious for not
picking a side in the Civil War, Don
says. They remained in hiding and
survived by stealing from whichever
side was convenient at the time. Bill
was known for being a sharpshooter
and would often clear out a campsite
by killing whomever was in his path
and stealing all the ammo.
Now, Don is trying to bring back
the name of Bill and other bushwhackers in a more respected light. He
spent years researching and more than
six months writing the book, “Bush-
Above: Don Wilson packs a pair of
.44-caliber pistols much like his greatgrandfather would have used. Right:
Don climbs to Moak Cave, near Rolla,
which was Bill’s favorite hiding spot.
whacker Bill Wilson Rides Again,” in
order to clear up some of the myths
It’s hard to miss Don as he steps
out of his white minivan. On both
sides of his car is a depiction of Bill
with four bullet holes around him.
He’s dressed like it’s 1863, but no
one in the parking lot seems fazed.
Not by the two .44-caliber pistols
he has strapped to his waist, which he
assures you are unloaded. Not even
by the black leather boots that go
just below his knee or the suspenders holding his gray and black tweed
pants in place.
This is just another day for Don
and people around here understand
that. On occasion, he can be seen
playing the role of a bushwhacker at
re-enactments dressed as his greatgrandfather.
Toward the end of his career as a
bushwhacker, there was a $300 reward
for Bill, dead or alive. He was the most
wanted of bushwhackers and contributed to Missouri being known as the
“land of the bushwhackers.”
Being a bushwhacker wasn’t necessarily a choice. It was the only option
for someone who didn’t want to put
on a Union or Confederate uniform.
Don described him as a “modern-day
“Yes, he stole, yes, he killed, but he
didn’t keep it all himself,” Don says.
Bill’s infamous bushwhacker stories
were even loosely portrayed in the
tage by giving him an opportunity to
1976 ﬁlm, “The Outlaw Josey Wales.”
research his great-grandfather’s life
Hollywood may have overexaggerated
where he once lived.
parts of the bushwhacker’s life. The
When Bill hid in Moak Cave, he
main character, Josey Wales, unlike
would turn his trusty horse loose. All
Bill, had his entire family killed by
it took was a quick whistle or birdUnion Soldiers and retaliates by joinlike noise to bring the horse back.
ing a band of guerilla ﬁghters. He
The most valued secret of his hiding
eventually settles down with a group
spot at the cave was its convenient
of settlers where he remains after
location close to his family and a well
negotiating a peaceful co-existence
with the Indians. Like Bill, he was
Bill ended his seven-year stint as
a bushwhacker in 1868, but he was
However, it all
still sought after for many years
started for Bill when
to follow. He was rumored to be
soldiers stole some
down in Texas, but that was
of Bill’s livestock and
only a brilliant plan by the
didn’t like the fact that
former bushwhacker to
he had refused to take
sides during the war. His
To many people’s
house, just south of Rolla
surprise, Bill was never
in Phelps County, was
caught, dead or alive.
burned to the ground.
The cause of death of the
After that, becoming a bushwhacker
great bushwhacker is still unknown.
was Bill’s best chance for revenge.
He was too smart and never took
Don, the middle child of 15, now
any chances with people. The book
lives to clear his great-grandfather’s
recounts many moments of life-orname. Growing up, his father would
death situations that Bill ﬁxed immetell him old stories of the bushwhackdiately by pulling out one of his pisers. Wanda Patterson, one of Don’s
tols. He would end their lives before
younger sisters, laughs as she and her
the soldiers took his with his accubrother remember their childhood.
rate, quick shooting, Don learned
“All of our life, these stories have
through his research.
been told instead of nursery stories,”
Today, as Don weaves in and out
of local convenience stores that sell
Don, a member of Intercounty
his book around the now-developed
Electric Cooperative, never thought
town, people recognize who he is
about leaving Rolla. Living here
and give him a count of how many
brings him even closer to his heribooks they’ve sold. Perhaps he has
redeemed the name of the bushwhacker. Perhaps, a little bit of his
grandfather’s Robin Hood spirit is in
him. He’s always been proud to be
“I’ve never been afraid of saying
it,” says the historian. “It’s just a part
of me. He’s always been my greatgrandfather.”
For every purchase of the book, “Bushwhacker Bill Wilson Rides Again,” $5 is
donated to the Warrior Transition Unit’s
Hand Skill Workshop at Fort Leonard
Wood. More information on how to purchase the book can be found at www.
bushwhackerbill.weebly.com or by contacting Don at 573-308-2424.
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Rural Missouri - July 2013
Rural Missouri - July 2013
That old-time religion
Out of the Way Eats
Hearth and Home
Keep it cool
On the banks of Bull Shoals
Rural Missouri - July 2013